“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy tea, and that’s kind of the same thing.” – Unknown
Although it might not seem as “American” as coffee, over half of the United States population drinks a cup of tea on any given day. Worldwide, 3,000 million tons of tea are produced every year. To put that into perspective, you can make about 200 cups of tea from just one pound. Incredible, right? With this many tea drinkers, it’s easy to see why tea has been both culturally and economically vital since its discovery approximately 5000 years ago. Tea isn’t just your morning jolt of caffeine; it’s a cup of history.
It’s usually best to start from the beginning—legend (and the UK Tea Council) tells us that tea was first discovered in 2737 BC. Shen Nung, the Chinese emperor, was sitting beneath Camellia sinensis tree while his servant boiled drinking water. Some leaves accidentally fell into the hot water, so Shen Nung decided to try the infusion that his servant had created. The resulting drink was what we now call tea.
From China, tea was carried to Japan by Buddhist monks and to England by a Portuguese princess. England introduced tea to India and then America to compete with the Chinese monopoly on the trade; however, unfair taxation practices led to an infamous political protest known as the Boston Tea Party. Americans would go on to invent iced tea at the 1904 World’s Fair and tea bags in 1907. However, some things don’t change—today, the six most consumed types of tea still come from the Camellia sinensis. Because of its health benefits and global popularity, seemingly limitless variations are grown and sold.
On one hand, tea seems like the most straightforward of beverages—put leaves in hot water, drink, repeat.
But in reality, tea is ridiculously complex—would you like white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, pu’erh, black tea, rooibos, herbal, or chai? Loose, bagged, iced, bottled, decaf, blooming, or with tapioca bubbles? Milk and sugar? One lump or two?
With so many options, the idea of becoming a tea connoisseur can be daunting, to say the least. If you have no experience with tea at all, purchasing a box of bagged black tea and a box of bagged green tea is a good place to start. Once you feel comfortable knowing what bagged flavors you like, it’s time to try loose leaf! Loose tea, also called “full-leaf tea,” can be purchased at a specialty tea store like TeaHaus in Kerrytown or any number of online shops. I personally love Adagio.com for its plethora of choices, quality product, and no sales tax in Michigan. Don’t forget to buy a tea infuser too, or else you won’t be able to make the loose tea. Already a loose leaf tea drinker? Try something different like rooibos (pronounced ROY-boss), which is red bush tea originally grown and fermented in South Africa. I’m not going to lie; rooibos is my personal favorite due to its antioxidant properties and warm, rounded taste. If you consider yourself a tea expert, you could use your skills to try creating a signature tea blend at Adagio. Search “red fox” on the site to see a personal blend that I made and purchased!
No matter what stage of “prosperi-tea” you’re on, there will always be another way to enjoy this timeless drink. In my opinion, the state of being for tea lovers everywhere is best described by Henry James in his novel The Portrait of a Lady: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Maybe I’d even be so bold as to agree with D.T. Suzuki, who once said “When I am sipping tea in my tearoom, I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space.” Either way, I know that tea will always be there for me when my hands need warming.